The curious incident of the dog in the park

Here is a short passage from Totalitarianism and Philosophy. (It tells a true story.)

Some weeks ago, I was taking a walk in my local park when I witnessed the following event: A small dog had slipped its lead and was making a run for it. It’s owner was chasing it. He looked desperate, he was out of breath and, although he was running as fast as he could, the dog was outstripping him. As he ran, this is what the man shouted: ‘Come here! Come here YOU FASCIST!’

The dog wasn’t really a fascist of course. Even the average fascist is more intelligent than the typical dog for, unlike fascists, dogs are incapable of forming even the most rudimentary political opinions. You only had to look at the yapping, snapping little tyke to see exactly what its owner meant though, and the incident provided a good illustration of how a political term can be deprived of precise meaning and degenerate into a simple term of abuse. In my neck of the woods it can be routine for those of a left-ish or liberal persuasion to label those they dislike as fascists. But then many another political term can be stripped of its true meaning in the same way.  For example, the way ‘fascist’ is sometimes used by leftists is mirrored by the way ‘liberal’ is often used by those on the Right as a term of a abuse for those they dislike.. Just say that you support gay marriage, for example, or state-funded health care – or say that you think a woman has a right to choose an abortion, or that you are opposed to the death penalty – and someone standing to the right of you will call you a liberal. You’ll be called that because this person thinks you’re a schmuk, not because he or she has conducted a cool analysis of your political standpoint.

The sloppy use of ‘fascist’ and ‘liberal’ I describe in the passage is – I think -only too familiar. Even if there were no other point to political philosophy, it would still be needed as a corrective to such looseness.